Biggs: Bears Free Agent Breakdown
RB Kahlil Bell, RFA: The Bears have wasted no time promoting Bell over veteran Marion Barber, already moving him to the top of the depth chart with Matt Forte out injured. Bell, 25, has made the most of late-season opportunities and coach Lovie Smith talked in positive terms about him moving up the depth chart without even referencing the injury-riddled Barber, who is on the books for $1.9 million next season. The Bears can get Bell back with a low tender as a restricted free agent. That cost roughly $1.2 million in 2011, so figure a similar number for this coming year, still a savings over Barber. The Bears might take Barber to training camp with them next summer because you donít want to erode depth at this position. Thatís why Chester Taylor went camping in Bourbonnais last summer, but at this point itís hard to envision Barber making the 2012 roster, not after his errors directly contributed to two losses. Bell fumbled three times in the last two games and thatís not tolerated for long. He has to be more secure with the ball.
CB Zack Bowman: At one point back in 2009, Smith was a young jewel in the secondary when he played in 16 games with 12 starts and a team-high six interceptions. But as quickly as he came on that season he faded the next year, losing his job after Week 3 of the 2010 season. Bowman has the kind of size Charles Tillman does with long arms and an instinct for the ball in the air. But he doesnít match Tillmanís toughness, a prerequisite for Cover-2 cornerbacks, and he really showed a lack of quickness on Christmas at Green Bay.
TE Kellen Davis: It wasnít the major impetus in trading Greg Olsen, but one of the reasons the Bears made the move was because they believed Davis, a fifth-round draft pick in 2008, was ready to blossom into a bigger role. Itís happened with some of their other late-round picks and Davis, at 6-7, 267 pounds, has always looked like a physical specimen capable of dominating at any point. Yes, the running game has improved this season and heís played a role in that. But you couldnít classify this as a breakout season for Davis, either. Heís limited in what he can do and his future could be tied to what kind of offense the Bears want to run in 2012. Davis has value and could return but the Bears probably wonít need him and Matt Spaeth if they switch offenses. That could lead to a choice between the two. If Davis returns, the hope is he will be a more consistent performer.
RB Matt Forte: Yes, Forte is unrestricted but for a practical matter there is no way he will reach the open market. Angelo has said before he does not like using the franchise tag. Itís a mechanism that can create a lot of emotions for players, not many of them positive, but in this instance not only do the Bears have to use it with Forte if a deal cannot be worked out, they have to use it in negotiations. The franchise tag for running backs in 2012 will be about $7.8 million, which represents 13 times the $600,000 he is earning this season. The goal is to get a long-term deal done with Forte and the Bears have tried. Weíll see if renewed talks for the Pro Bowl selection get anywhere.
CB Corey Graham: A year ago, Graham said he didnít want to be pigeon-holed as a special teams player and that he wanted to choose a team in free agency that would give him an opportunity to play defense. Because the lockout wiped out the offseason, Graham chose to re-sign with the Bears even though he didnít expect to play on defense. Given a chance when D.J. Moore was sidelined with an ankle sprain, he made an interception in three consecutive games. He also was named to the Pro Bowl for special-teams play for the first time. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub is always developing young talent, but itís hard to identify someone to replace Graham if he doesnít return. Graham is only 26 and investing in him probably would be wise, but the Bears have drawn a line at paying special teamers in the past.
QB Caleb Hanie: You just never know when it comes to backup quarterbacks that donít have deep playing experience. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a reserve quarterback is when heís forced to play. The job pays well, there isnít a lot of pressure and it can last a while. Jonathan Quinn was in his seventh season when he joined the Bears. He was forced to play when Rex Grossman was injured and, just like that, the gig was up. Hanie is a hard worker and he had a brief moment in the NFC Championship Game last year but itís difficult to imagine another team signing him at this point.
DE Israel Idonije: He turned 31 in November and it might be surprising that after starting the entire season, he only has 39 career starts. He has gotten better as heís aged even if this wasnít as strong of a season for him as last year. To really have strong leverage in the marketplace, Idonije would need to be three or four years younger. That should put the Bears in position to bring him back on a modest short-term deal, maybe two or three years. I asked him if he will be back next season. ďYeah, 100 percent,Ē Idonije said. ďIt was a tough year. Ultimately for me, I played fundamentally better than I did last year. Except for the sacks, I had a better year.Ē There very well could be interest in him if he reaches free agency, though, because heís got a track record for not only durability but also versatility. He can play inside and he was once a Pro Bowl special teams alternate. The Bears need to find pass-rushing help but they can accomplish that and bring Idonije back. Letting him go would create a void when you consider the lack of productive ends behind him on the depth chart. Had Corey Wootton developed as the Bears had hoped, they would be comfortable bidding Idonije goodbye. That hasnít happened.
CB Tim Jennings: Jennings has been far better than I expected he would be when he was signed to a two-year deal in 2010. That being said, he has limitations. Some people will remember errors in coverage he made during the second half of the season after what was, by most accounts, a pretty solid first half of the season. He finished with a solid game against the Vikings, including an interception and six tackles. Itís evident the Bears need to add a cornerback, preferably a younger one to pair with Tillman, but if Bowman and Graham leave, someone needs to return. Moore doesnít seem like an option on the outside and while 2010 fifth-round draft pick Joshua Moore is on the practice squad, he spent plenty of time elsewhere this season, giving you an indication of how he was valued.
LS Chris Massey: The longtime St. Louis Ram was signed to fill in for Mannelly after he suffered a torn ACL in the San Diego game Nov. 20. At first, the Bears were going to try an unproven rookie in Jake Laptad. Then, they changed their minds and pulled Massey off the street. Heís been solid but not as on-target as Mannelly. The Bears will need to find a long snapper for the offseason because Mannelly will not be ready until training camp, at the earliest. Fullback Tyler Clutts could handle the role or maybe the Bears will call Laptad back.
QB Josh McCown: There is no question McCown would like to wait a while to try his hand at coaching high school football again. The 32-year-old journeyman faced a fierce pass rush that sacked him seven times but he made enough plays to come out a winner, including a 90-play touchdown drive. Everyone wants to find a young quarterback and develop him but McCown probably played well enough to be in position for a job somewhere. If Mike Martz returns as offensive coordinator, he might be choice No. 2 after Kyle Orton. The Bears would have to pay Orton more money, and heíll surely look for a starting shot somewhere first.
S Brandon Meriweather: This was an impulse buy gone bad. When Meriweather was cut loose by the New England Patriots the week before the season began, they pounced on him. The $3.25 million, one-year contract Meriweather received nearly doubled what he was scheduled to earn from the Patriots. He was hailed as a two-time Pro Bowl performer who would be an instant upgrade and a potential long-term fix at the position. But Meriweather proved to be the same undisciplined player he was in New England. He dressed Sunday but did not play, the fourth time he was in uniform and didnít see the field. It would be very surprising if he returns and heís certainly not going to command top pay.
DT Amobi Okoye: One of several free agents the Bears brought in on one-year deals, Okoye looked to revive his career with a prove-it contract that paid him $1.3825 million. He settled into the rotation and has some of the traits the scheme calls for, particularly as an interior rusher. But it would be hard to say heís had the kind of season that will bring with it big rewards in free agency. Okoye fit into the locker room nicely and offered some solid reps but heíd be a backup if he returned next season and unless the Bears can find an upgrade, itís not a bad idea.
S Craig Steltz: Bowman might have dropped the ball at the wrong time when playing time came late in the season. Steltz did the opposite, getting four starts in the final month and playing well. When you consider the Bears used eight -- eight! -- starting combinations at safety, it would stand to reason Steltz would be a good player to bring back. He has limitations but heís valuable on special teams and knows the defense. A young addition to the mix makes sense, and Anthony Walters will be returning from injured reserve, but Steltz can help the Bears in 2012.
WR Roy Williams: Expectations in the NFL are shaped by two things: draft status and contract size. So when Martz boldly (foolishly?) predicted 70 to 80 receptions for Williams in training camp, he was grossly overstating what the Bears expected when they paid the veteran $1.5 million in base pay with a $500,000 signing bonus and small roster bonuses based on games played. That kind of payday suggests 50 to 55 receptions and Williams couldnít deliver that although maybe a healthy Jay Cutler gets him close to that figure. Williams says he would like to return but find me a player who says he doesnít want to come back to his current team. He doesnít upgrade the Bears at wide receiver for 2012. Use one question when considering who could help the Bears moving forward: Does the player push the roster from the top down? Adding candidates to be No. 2 or No. 3 receivers doesnít do a lot to help this club. Theyíve got plenty of those players on board.
Brad Biggs' 10 thoughts on Bears' win to end season - chicagotribune.com